Production possibility of Biofuel in Nepal

By Dr. Bharat Shrestha

     

Rapeseed

Jatropha

Algae

Alternative sources of petroleum fuel have always been discussed because of petroleum fuel’s ever increasing price, its non-renewable nature and negative effect on the global climate. Several sources of alternative energy are identified and are in use, such as solar energy, wind energy, hydropower, geothermal energy, biogas energy etc. Global climate change is forcing society to find environmentally friendly energy such that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions can be reduced. Biofuel is considered as one of the environmentally friendly source of energies because of its recyclable nature. Some sources of biofuels are shown in the picture above.

Biofuel is a type of fuel whose energy is derived from biological carbon (C) fixation. Biofuels include fuels derived from biomass conversion, as well as solid biomass, liquid fuels and various biogases1. This is an alternative to petroleum fuels with less CO2 emission to the atmosphere. The logic behind considering it as an environmentally friendly energy is that biologically fixed C (carbon) will be converted into biofuel and the emitted CO2 from burning of this fuel will be captured again by plants through photosynthesis. In this way it will not add more CO2 into the atmosphere like the burning of fossil fuel. Thus, it has been considered as an option to mitigate the effect of global warming.

There are mainly two types of biofuels – bioethanol and biodiesel. Bioethanol (also called Ethanol) is made from carbohydrates produced in sugar or starch from crops such as wheat, corn, sugarcane, sugar beet etc. Cellulosic biomass, derived from non-food sources such as trees and grasses, is also being used as a feedstock for ethanol production (Table 1). Biodiesel is made from vegetable oils, animal fats or recycled greases. Bioethanol is more common in Brazil and Northern America while biodiesel is more common in Europe. Biodiesel is biodegradable and non-toxic, and typically produces about 60% less net-lifecycle CO2 emissions2.

Most of the feed stocks for biofuel can be produced locally in most of the countries of the world, thus it will reduce one country’s dependence on another country for fuel supply.  Biodiesel is made through a chemical process called transesterification whereby the glycerine is separated from the fat or vegetable oil. The process leaves behind two products, namely 1) methyl esters (the chemical name for biodiesel) and 2) glycerin (a valuable by-product usually sold to be used in soaps and other products in cosmetic industries). Thus the production of biodiesel does not only produce biofuel but it also produces raw material to the cosmetic industries.

At the current time there has been a debate about the overlap between the food value and fuel value of crops as some of the feedstock for biodiesel come from food crops (Table 1). Biofuels are at this moment mostly produced out of sugar cane, corn, soybean and canola, while there are about 850 million people that don’t have enough food2. Thus, there is dire need to produce feed stocks for biofuel which don’t have food-value or are non-food plants and can be grown in waste or marginal land.

Table 1: Some feed stocks for biofuel production

Biodiesel

 

Bioethanol

 

Oilcrops

Sugar crops

Starch crops

Cellulosic materials

Rapeseed

Sugar cane

Maize

Switchgrass

Palm oil

Sugar beet

Wheat

Miscanthus

Soybean

Sweet sorghum

Barley

Willow

Sunflower

Rye

Poplar

Peanut

Potatoes

Crop stover

Jatropha

Cassava

Animal fats

 

Production possibility of feedstock for biodiesel in Nepal

Nepal imports petroleum products to meet its ever increasing demand. There has been increasing trend of fuel import since 1993 to 2010 and a sharp increase since 2007 (Figure 1). India is the main supplier of petroleum products to Nepal. Due to its landlocked situation, importing petroleum products from a third country is almost impossible. As an effort to find alternative energy sources, the Nepal government has developed policy and programs to produce and promote feedstock for biodiesel since 2007. The most obvious candidate plant is the physic nut (Jatropha Curcas)which is a common hedge plant. It is a multipurpose, drought resistant, perennial plant belonging to the Euphorbiaceae family3. This plant doesn’t need much water and thus can be produced in marginal land4. Since it doesn’t have food value, it doesn’t affect food supply to society compared to other feedstock listed in the table 1. There have been some pilot programs running in Nepal to promote the production of the physic nut5, 6, 7. The Nepal government has developed a national program since 2007 for promotion of this plant as feedstock for biodiesel and this year, it has allocated a budget for its promotion in different parts of the country8. The Nepal government has established an Alternative Energy Promotion Center (AEPC)10 to implement programs for alternative energies including biodiesel from Jatropha.


Figure 1. Import statistics of petrol and diesel in Nepal
Data source: Nepal oil corporation (http://www.nepaloil.com.np/main/?opt1=supply&opt2=import)

Local names for the physic nut vary per geographical location; e.g.  sajiwan, battibal, kadam or suruwal. Two types of physic nuts are recognized in Nepal namely J. curas L. and J. gossipifolia6. Poudel and Baral have estimated that annual production of Jatropha seeds will be 5000 kg/ha/yr and average revenue will be NRs 5,000 per ha which is almost double the revenue from rice and wheat. There are multiple benefits of cultivating physic nuts in Nepal. It is a multipurpose plant whose use can be from simple hedge plant to complex medicinal use to cure deadly disease like HIV3. Other benefits include judicious use of marginal land, utilization of range land, the possibility of inter-cropping, etc and ultimately, an alternative source of income. Since it has high oil content (47.25%)3, it is a promising feedstock for biodiesel production and the pressed oilcake is an excellent organic fertilizer. Although commercial farming has yet to be undertaken in Nepal, there has been cultivation in a small scale in different parts of the country5,7,9. The geography and climate is suitable for its cultivation as it is highly adaptive plant thriving in tropical to sub-tropical environment.  Readers are encouraged to follow the links in the reference list to learn more about Jatropha cultivation in Nepal.

Until now farmers are unable to get a profitable benefit from cultivating the Jatropha plant mainly due to the embryonic stage of the program. The markets of different products from this plant have yet to be explored. Consequently, the actual or potential growers including those in the subsistence sector do not have an adequate information base about the potential economics of this plant to exploit it commercially. Therefore, timely examining the potential role that Jatropha can play in meeting some of the needs for energy services will be both beneficial to the nation and create avenues for greater employment in the future. Manpower for this sector can be trained locally such that the search for foreign employment will no longer be necessary. Farming, processing and infrastructure development will create many jobs for skilled and unskilled people making biofuel production a win-winwin situation for the environment, nation and local people.

References

  • 1Wikipedia (2011). Biofuel http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biofuel
  • 2Our-Energy (2011).  Biodiesel key facts. http://www.our-energy.com/energy_facts/biodiesel_facts.html
  • 3Kumar A. and Sharma S. (2008).An evaluation of multipurpose oil seed crop for industrial uses (Jatropha curcas L.): A review. Industrial Crops and Products, Vol. 28, (1):1-10. doi:10.1016/j.indcrop.2008.01.001
  • 4Boswell (2001). In a Nut Shell: Wealth, Health, Energy and Environment. Kantipur April 1st 2001
  • 5Lane J (2010). Nepal Jatropha project underway http://biofuelsdigest.com/bdigest/2010/12/20/nepal-jatropha-project-underway/
  • 6Poudyal and Baral (2010). Cropping Potential of Physic Nut (Jatropha curcas L.) in Nepal. Presentation in FAO. Available online  www.fao.org/bioenergy/26323-0851119e2000b726f250b5da2a8c19ccb.pdf
  • 7Sulpya, K. M. (2004).  Jatropha curcas in Nepal http://www.jatropha.de/nepal/index.html
  • 8Nepal government (2011). Budget speech 2068. Available online at http://www.mof.gov.np/publication/speech/2011/pdf/budgetspeech_english.pdf
  • 9Everest biodiesel http://everestbiodiesel.com/index.php
  • 10Alternative Energy Promotion Center (AEPC) (http://aepc.gov.np)

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